"Kouki-chan! Where on earth have they been hiding you? I haven't seen you since we got our assignments!"

"That, Oshiro Mei, is because I was assigned to the Fourth division and you were assigned to the Eighth."

"You mean I have been going to the wrong division all these months for nothing, brother?"

Kouki fell into step beside the tall girl who had become his adopted little sister from the minute she had entered the Academy and laughed for what felt like the first time in ages. The healing division rarely saw any reason to laugh with the sort of injuries that were brought to them. That was something that Kouki knew after only six months in the division, and he had not even seen the worst of the injuries that were brought in from fighting the arrancar. He was so caught up in his thoughts that he almost did not hear the next part of what Mei had said.

"For that, I am afraid I am going to have to think of some horrible revenge so that you don't spend your time off simply moping in the middle of the road."

Kouki looked at her, trying to rid his head of the last images of her being brought into his division badly wounded and looked at her. She was standing with her hands on her hips, staring directly at him as she waited for an answer.

"Like what, Mei-chan?", he asked hesitantly. He had been friends with Oshiro Mei long enough to know just how touchy the normally laidback tomboy was on the rare occasions when she chose to be serious. He mentally cursed his inattention, wishing that he could at least see her eyes so that he knew if she had truly been offended by his silence. The angle was wrong though, and all he had to go on was the softly teasing tone of voice the she had kept up.

"Like, Fukui Kouki, buying me dinner the next time you have time off and spending a few hours trapped in the same room with me. At least long enough for me to hear just what has been going on with you at any rate." She tilted her head up, letting her face break into mischievous grin that made him relax and start smiling. He knew he should be at least annoyed at her for this, but he wasn't thinking about the arrancar or his division with Mei teasing him either.

"Well, that can be easily arranged if you can spare a few minutes. I just finished up for the day and was heading off to get something to eat."

"Perfect. Well, since you've been closed off in your division all this while, I will simply have to take it as my personal duty to show you to a nice quiet restaurant where I can safely beat off your hoards of admirers." she said, wrapping her arm around his shoulder and guiding him away from the small alcove off of the road where they were standing, just before the gates of the Sixth division.

Kouki fought not to snort at that. He had been a street brat from the 75th West district of Rukongai before becoming shinigami, and he looked like it, from the straw colored mop of hair through the broken nose and slight build, all the way down to his twisted left foot. Any admirers he got were likely to be as insane as some of Mei's were, especially the sort she gotten after the rumors that one of the other students in their year, a dyed in the wool bastard regardless of his legitimate birth and ties to one of the lesser noble houses, had spread in revenge for the black eye she had given him when he had taken her teasing and light flirting to be an open invitation for something else. Rumors that he was willing to bet had begun to resurface from the gossip he had heard during training earlier in the week. A soft, smooth voice from behind them made both of their shoulders tensed as he heard the worst of his thoughts echoed by Ito Hideaki as if simply thinking of him had summoned the rumormongering bastard to them.

"Well, well, well. Oshiro Mei. And Fukui Kouki also. My, my. And here, Oshiro, I thought that you would quit acting like your mother after you were assigned to a division. Or is she merely going to fuck with you out of pity, Fukui?"

Kouki tensed and began to swear softly under his breath as Mei urged him to continue walking. Not that ignoring Ito Hideaki would make him stop, but nothing ever did. But Mei had survived the constant whispers and odd glances since Ito had first begun the rumors undermining her family's honor years ago by having a thicker skin than most people. However, the sound of footsteps picked up behind them and it was clear that something had bruised his pride badly, enough that they would not be simply allowed to walk away tonight.

"What, Oshiro? So quiet tonight? Well, maybe that is a good thing if the best Fukui can afford is a Minami whore. Still, sometimes a little noise can make things all the more fun, don't you think Kouki? I might be able to help you out with that."

Before Kouki could realize just what Ito intended he saw something blur past his right cheek and hit Oshiro Mei in the back of the head. She turned then and saw the small silvery glint trapped in between Ito's fingers. For a second, Kouki could not realize just what it was for a second, and then he looked at Mei, watching all of the color drain from her face as she recognized the object. Her mother's necklace, the one that had been presented to her with her father's effects at his funeral. She spoke then, her voice a hoarse choke that was heart wrenching to listen to.

"Please, give me back the necklace, Ito Hideaki."

"Oh, I don't see why I should. If you want it so badly, Oshiro, why don't you come and get it?"

Kouki walked over until he was standing nearly nose-to-nose with Ito. "You know what, I am really tired of your garbage Ito. Give Oshiro Mei back her necklace before I report you to your Captain for disobeying an order from a ranked officer. Or did you forget I am the sixteenth seat of the Fourth division? And don't think I won't report you."

Ito sneered and stepped back and threw the necklace at Mei. "There, Fukui-san. Oshiro-san has her necklace back."

Kouki turned his back, reaching out his hand to pick up the necklace from the ground when a bolt of kidou scorched the ground beneath his hand. Kouki did not think, he simply straightened his fists clenched at his sides, and turned, punching Ito squarely in the chest. It was an even enough match as far as he was concerned for while Ito had half a foot of height and at least fifty pounds of muscle on Kouki, he did not have five years of anger and the sort of fighting skills that any child who grew up on the streets of Rukongai learned as soon as they could walk. The next half hour was a test of just how much he had learned, as Kouki rolled, dodged, and swerved away from Ito's attacks until he landed his final attack on the bastard, leaving him laid out along the road. Now that he was no longer fighting, he could actually feel how badly some of the hits he had taken hurt. Most were not too bad, but the one to his ribs was making it a bit hard to breathe. He felt a gentle hand on his shoulders helpfully pushing enough that he could stand completely upright.

"Enough. This fight is over." Mei said softly, her hand still on his shoulder as she spoke, but there was a presence behind the soft tone that let Kouki know just how annoyed and worried his best friend was over this mess. Getting Oshiro Mei this angry would have been a stupid idea even if he were not her best friend. Not when she had been taught to fight by the old seventh seat of the Eleventh division. She opened her mouth to say something more, but none of them ever learned just what she might have said, since it was then that she jerked forward, doubling over in pain from a kidou blast to the back, knocking her to the ground. Kouki thought he heard raised voices from inside the gates as he tried to move to see just how badly Mei had been hit before the pain in his ribs worsened to the point where all he could pay attention to were the bright stars at the edge of his vision. And then, for a short, blessed while, there was nothing at all.